A maker’s museum: Conner Prairie set to open new exhibit in January

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Rachel Poe, senior interpreter, displays the Makesmith Workshop at Conner Prairie. It opens Jan. 11. (Photo by Sadie Hunter)

By Jessica Hoover

Conner Prairie, a museum known for its family oriented learning experiences and one of the largest attractions in the region, will debut a new exhibit  Jan. 11: the Makesmith Workshop. The exhibit will give provide visitors a hands-on look at the trades of textiles, ceramics,  metalworking and woodworking.

Director of Exhibits Brian Mancuso and Senior Interpreter Rachel Poe said the exhibit was an idea they planned for quite some time.

“We’re really excited about it because it takes the historic trades and things that we do on the grounds and lets us put those projects and tools into our guests’ hands to let them have the experience of making things,” Poe said.

“There really aren’t opportunities to let the visitors behind the velvet rope (currently),” Mancuso said. “Now, we can have an authentic, hands-on experience that we just can’t have in Prairie Town.”

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From left, Grace, Ian and Julie Cahill make paper rockets in the Create.Connect interactive exhibit at Conner Prairie. Conner Prairie opens its newest indoor exhibit, Makesmith Workshop, Jan. 11. (Photo by Sadie Hunter)

The theme of the Makesmith Workshop will vary depending on which historic trade is featured that day. Trades will be listed on Conner Prairie’s website. Each trade has a different set of tools and materials. The first featured exhibit will be textiles, which will give visitors the opportunity to use needle and thread, sewing machines and fabric.

“One of the cool things about the space is that it’s kind of like a blank canvas that Rachel and her staff can fill in as time goes on,” Mancuso said. “It should look like a thoughtfully cluttered workspace that you can tell that craftspeople and artisans have worked in there. After a while it’s just going to be this kind of thought process in an inspirational environment over time.”

Museum officials are still considering whether visitors will be able to take home their creations from the Makesmith Workshop, but Mancuso said they might be able do so for a slight upcharge. Items created at the exhibit will at times become part of a collaborative project when Conner Prairie staff puts together each visitor’s creation.

Mancuso and Poe noted that when they created a pop-up for the exhibit last spring, visitors responded well to contributing to a collaborative project. Each visitor was asked to sew together a patch of a quilt, and after the quilt was stitched together it was displayed at Conner Prairie.

“When we did the pop-up, we learned that when visitors had contact with those objects they were able to kind of create a bit more of a connection with them and get inspired to create something,” Mancuso said.

The interpreters in the Makesmith Workshop will not be in costume or in character because they will share tool knowledge of all time periods. Mancuso said the interpreters are meant to guide the visitors and at times even explore different concepts together.

“There might be some problem where the visitor and the interpreter will become co-learners and they explore together,” Mancuso said. “We have a lot of people come in and a lot of people that have questions, so we want to make sure to really create that co-exploration.”

Mancuso said the Makesmith Workshop is for peopleof all ages to learn more about the historic trades and working with tools.

“It’s not about craft or glue sticks and glitter,” Mancuso said. “It’s about that older audience. It’s about the younger kids that want to take it a step further. It’s about parents that want to come in and co-explore along with their kids. Parents really see a value in getting tools and materials in their kids’ hands in ways that they may not be able to do at home or at school. Many of these parents maybe grew up with a workshop, but they don’t have a workshop. Or they grew up with a craft or a sewing room, and now they don’t have one. So, this is a venue where we can make that happen.”

For more, visit connerprairie.org.

Other exhibits available this winter


In the Create.Connect exhibit, visitors can create their own invention, flying machine, windmill, hot air balloon, electrical circuits and working radio. Visitors also can learn about physics by using machines such as pulleys and a swinging hammer.

Discovery Station

Discovery Station is an exhibit designed for visitors through the age of 9 to create, climb, explore, play and pretend. It features areas where visitors can build their own hideout with poles and blankets, put on shows with puppets and stuffed animals, climb in the forest-themed play area, dress up like a forest animal and curl up in a book nook shaped like a beehive.

Craft Corner

At Craft Corner, visitors can learn new skills and create a take-home craft. Some activities include soap making, using an antique printing press, decorating a quilt square and weaving. Different themed activities are created monthly, so visitors can come back and try their hand at a new craft.